Devotional Message: The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 4B (6/3/2018)

Revised Common Lectionary Texts

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Psalm 81:1-10 (1)
2nd Corinthians 4:5-12
St. Mark 2:23—3:6

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, throughout time you free the oppressed, heal the sick, and make whole all that you have made. Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin, and by your power restore us to wholeness of life, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

2:23 One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” 

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
St. Mark 2:23—3:6, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Sabbath… and Life

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary (Random House, Inc. © 2018) defines a “provocateur” as a person who “provokes trouble, causes dissension, or the like; in short: an agitator.” As this weekend’s Gospel lesson begins, it appears that Jesus is acting like a provocateur. It is the Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples are walking through grain fields. As they are moving along together they pick heads of grain off of the stalks and eat them. Knowing that they are being observed by the religious authorities, one wouldn’t be out of line to wonder if Jesus is, here, seeking to provoke a response from these officials. After all, religious first century Jews, leaders and followers alike, would be aware that current custom prohibits any kind of work on the Sabbath, and picking grain for a meal certainly fits into the category of work. If Jesus has instructed his disciples do do this, or at the very least if he failed to restrain them, he certainly must know that this will lead to a confrontation.

A faithful first century believer would have any number of commandments, laws, rules, customs and traditions to follow. Over the years, wise and faithful rabbis and scholars had considered almost every imaginable situation, and provided guidance as to what the most faithful response might be. These expectations ruled how to honor the Sabbath, how to prepare food, how to approach (or refrained from approaching) people when out in public, and much more. Faithfulness in those days had a good deal to do with understanding these expectations clearly and fulfilling them. Surely there was a word or two in there about picking grain on the Sabbath.

Jesus doesn’t seem especially concerned, though, about whether or not plucking a few heads of grain might technically be understood as work. Instead, he seems concerned about the very meaning of Sabbath. The people of his time imagine Sabbath to be about resting — refraining from work — not doing what they have been instructed not to do. Jesus understands it to be about life-giving pursuits. Studying the Scriptures. Worshipping with God’s people. Doing good. Saving life. Leading people to experience restoration. These are what give life to God’s people.

Take the man with a withered hand, whose disability certainly makes daily life more challenging. It also makes it harder to find employment; harder to support himself and his family; harder to live the kind of life God wants for him. When such a need becomes apparent on the Sabbath, what does one do? Wait around until sundown, when the Sabbath ends, and then think about healing? Or immediately do what a loving God would want to have done?

What Jesus demonstrates here is that honoring the Sabbath is not about religious observance. Instead, it is about living in a way that participates with our Creator in promoting and preserving life. Doing good. Saving life. Restoring wellness. These are the actions and activities of a faithful believer. And these are actions and activities appropriate for a day set aside to honor the God who created us, and who works through us to nurture this created world.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why did the Pharisees think what Jesus and his disciples were doing was wrong?
  2. What is the alternative understanding Jesus provides for what it means to honor the Sabbath Day?
  3. What was sacred, or holy, about this Sabbath Day experience for the man with a withered hand?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What Sabbath practices once were prevalent in our country, yet now are not?
  2. What practices have I discovered that allow me to set aside time each week to enter into God’s presence?
  3. How might I become involved in actions or activities that do good, save life and restore wellness?